AT&T is now in exactly the same position on Unix as Xerox was three or four years ago on Ethernet. Large parts of the industry want, and are committed to, both products, to the extent that there is irresistible pressure for generic standard implementations that are not proprietary to any one company – and everyone is quite happy to see the creations of Xerox and AT&T baptised with minimal modifications as IEEE standards. Commercially no-one fears Xerox – a company with a hatful of brilliant innovations to its name, but a fatal weakness when it comes to marketing those innovations to its own benefit. And, while AT&T was regarded as a hungry lion and a significant threat as it was preparing to enter the computer industry in 1983 and early 1984, today the lion is almost universally recognised to be quite toothless. And, with AT&T comfortably regarded as another Xerox in the computer business, its size and its commercial incompetence make it the ideal guardian of the soul of Unix. And, with little alternative since what substantial computer business it has done has been with the US government, AT&T has meekly bowed to the inevitable and agreed to hand the final arbitration on the future shape of Unix over to the IEEE P1003 standards committee. The telephone giant has committed to making Unix System V release 3 100% compatible with the IEEE Posix standard before the end of the year. AT&T sees standards activities in the Unix arena as nearing completion and reckons that its own work on System V is done. As a result AT&T has also joined the X/Open applications standards group in Europe, saying that it has the same objectives as the rest of the members involved. As part of this effort the X/Open group is giving a ‘Demonstration of Portability’ in Luxembourg this week. The intention is to demonstrate the same applications running on machines from each of the 11 members. The newest member, AT&T, will be involved in that its strategy manager, Tony Barrese, will be present, and while AT&T won’t be putting its own machine into the demonstration, Olivetti will be there with one of the AT&T 3B family.
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